It’s been an incredibly busy two weeks, encompassing, at various points, book signings, meetings, Eastercon, the Clarke Award, Sci Fi London and shooting the start of a documentary – so now I’m back home, back on antibiotics, and back in bed. The weather, in case you’re wondering, is gorgeous!
Quick catching up:
Also, if you’re after a signed copy of Camera Obscura, these can be found at Forbidden Planet, London; Foyles, Charing Cross Road; Waterstone’s Kingston (Bentall Centre); Waterstone’s Birmingham, New Street; and, if you happen to fly British Airways, you can also find them at W.H. Smith in Heathrow Terminal 5.
My third and last guest-post for the Jewish Book Council this week, Remembering How to be a Jew:
I’m living in Israel again after seventeen years, which is a bit of a shock. The political discourse has always been ugly here, but it seems to be getting uglier, to the point that you might not want to open your mouth publicly about it. seventeen years after I left, an 18-year-old with a passion for beaches,science fiction and smoking things that were not strictly legal anywhere but the Netherlands, it’s surprising how little has changed.
There is still an occupation, of course. Still half-hearted peace talks designed to fail, still an unwillingness to understand what it is that is so wrong at the heart of the Jewish state. An unwillingness to acknowledge anything can even be wrong. It occurs to me that we, Israelis, have forgotten what it means to be a Jew. I do not mean putting on tefillin, or going to shul, or knowing our Moses from our Abraham (or our Absalom from our David). As Jews we were never very good at being observant, we were merely good at being Jews. It is partly things like the erasure of Yiddish for Hebrew, the writing of a victorious, patriotic, often vitriolic official history, the changing of our names (my family was Heisikovitz before it was Tidhar), the very re-writing of what it means to be a Jew. We are not diaspora Jews, we were told. We are a new brand of Jew. A sabra. Prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside, yaddy yaddy yadda.
We were the few against the many. We were Masada come again. It didn’t even occur to us that taking as our emblem the small, fanatic cult of suicides that was Masada said more about us than we could understand. We worked so hard at being Israelis that we forgot to be Jews. We forgot, in other words, that Jews had learned, for hundreds and hundreds of years, to live amongst other people. – read the full post.
I’m blogging for the Jewish Book Council this week. Today, I talk about my forthcoming novel Osama, my all-too-personal encounters with global terrorism, and a book no one (almost) wants to buy…
Because I couldn’t not write Osama. As it happens, I have a very personal history with that loose, and little understood, network of operatives that uses the collective name Al-Qaeda. I was in Dar-es-Salaam, in Tanzania, recovering from Malaria in a small hotel room in 1998, when the American embassy was attacked. I was in Nairobi a week later, watching the remains of the embassy there, surrounded by soldiers after-the-fact. And my wife, who was with me there, was in the Sinai in 2004 when a set of bomb attacks rocked the tourist coast of the Red Sea. A car bomb exploded less than a kilometre away from where she was, and I remember that night vividly, trying to establish contact, find out that she was alive, with the phone lines jammed and people passing on messages to each other, reassurances that such-and-such is fine, that they’re alive. – read the full post!
I’m blogging for the Jewish Book Council this week, beginning with Thrilling Hebrew Tales! On Jewish Vampires, Golems, Tzaddiks, and HebrewPunk:
I’ve got a feeling that, in years from now, with many novels, novellas, and collections all out (I’ll have 3 novels out just next year, if it’s an indication), when oil becomes scarce and there’ll be a Chinese colony on the moon, I’ll still be that HebrewPunk guy.
I should probably explain…
A few years ago, I became irritated enough with fantasy fiction to do something about it. When I get asked about it, I normally say it was the vampires what did it. It used to drive me insane that the underlying assumption of – well, pretty much all – vampire novels and movies, was that Christianity worked.
After all, we all know what vampires are afraid of. Crosses and holy water, right?
Which is strange, and a little uncomfortable, if you happen to be Jewish.
Because, like the Aryan elves of fantasy literature, there is a whole planetary mass of underlying assumptions of cultural dominance behind those “silly stories about unreal things”. And Jews don’t belong, they seem to say, in fantasy. – read the rest of the article.
I’m guest-blogging at Futurismic this week, alongside Aliette de Bodard and Gareth L. Powell. Check out What’s The Beef? On Faith and Food, where I talk about the stomach god, Jewish kryptonite, thetans, Nigella Lawson, cannibals, and the mystery of chicken.
I also took part in this week’s Mind Meld on SF Signal, answering the question, What are some of the SF/F tropes that need to be retired?
I have a guest-post over at SF Signal, where I discuss living in Vanuatu and the writing of Cloud Permutations:
I wrote Cloud Permutations on the island of Vanua Lava, in Vanuatu, in view of the volcano, wreathed in clouds. There are always clouds. They are attracted to islands, the land formations jutting out of the surface of the ocean help them coalesce and form.
Cloud Permutations is a story of islands, and clouds, and in a way, I think, it’s a story not just of escapism, but of escape.
You cannot get off an island. There is nowhere else to go.
I wrote the book in a bamboo hut on the shore of the South Pacific ocean. I could see the volcano from my window. I had no electricity and no clean water. At night rats broke into the food cupboard and ate everything. Fire ants dropped through the tiny holes of the mosquito net and bit us in our sleep. The mosquitoes carried malaria, but that was ok – I had malaria several times before.
Always shake your underwear before putting them on, because a fire ant often offends.
At night, sometimes, I would go out for kava. Kava is a drink made from the roots of a plant native to the islands of Vanuatu. The roots are chopped up and mixed with water and produce a dark, dank brown drink that produces relaxation. It makes your sight and hearing sensitive, so the nakamals – the kava-bars – are dark and quiet places, illuminated by a single candle or hurricane lamp, and the stars.
What if the people I lived with and drank with and laughed with and had fights with were to go into space? – read the rest of the post.
Cloud Permutations is available direct from PS Publishing in trade hardcover or limited hardcover editions, or via Amazon UK.
I’ve got a guest-post up on Jeff Vandermeer’s blog, Letter from Jakarta & Cloud Permutations Release, where I talk about the book situation in Jakarta, e-book readers, the release of Cloud Permutations, bilingual jokes and some of the difficulties of defining an Other in Bislama.
I’m late to the guest-blogging season this time around, but I have an excuse – I’m currently writing two novels and a novella back-to-back, which gives you an idea of how absent my social life is at the moment. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m spending a couple of months in Jakarta – if you haven’t been, don’t. Someone should probably write a paper on The City as One Giant Traffic Jam, or maybe that’s China’s sequel to The City and the City. In any case, here I am. The question is, will I ever be able to get out?
It’s kind of a depressing city, book-wise. The few bookstores have a remarkable lack of novels, in either English or Bahasa. There arebooks – technical manuals, self-help guides, that sort of thing. Young adult fantasy seems to be the only type of novel widely available, though that appears to be mainly translations from English.
To find real Indonesian books one has to go to one of the second hand book markets – the bursa buku – where you’d find some wonderful Indonesian pulp novels (at least, they have wonderful pulp covers) and a lot of comics, but where the English novels seem to be composed entirely of ex-pat reading material, which is in turn made up pretty much by Jackie Collins’ back-catalogue.
I knew I should have bought that e-book reader before I left. – continue reading.
Over at the Apex Magazine Blog, Jason Sizemore saw fit to resurrect my Confessions of a Book Junkie column, so (sequentially numbered 19), I get to talk about collecting steampunk, the books I still have, the books I found, and the books I lost along the way:
I’ve been trying to think if I have a decent steampunk collection or not. I’m still not sure. The first and obvious thing I’m missing is K.W. Jeter’sInfernal Devices. I don’t even think I have it in paperback. And my James Blaylock collection–Homunculus, Lord Kelvin’s Machine, the wonderfulThe Digging Leviathan (not to mention books like The Paper Grail and The Last Coin) I only have in paperback. Even worse, I did have the first edition hardcover of Paul di Filippo’s The Steampunk Trilogy (collecting the novellas Victoria, Hottentots and Walt and Emily) but I don’t think I have it any more.
Which leaves… what?
Well, for one, I have a UK first edition hardcover of Bruce Sterling and William Gibson’s The Difference Engine–and it’s signed by both authors. I remember getting it quite vividly, because it was in this bookshop in Greenwich (that wonderland of books) and it was priced, in pencil, at £12–but when I took it to the counter the seller said, no, no, this is from the previous shop! We actually sell it at £18! .
So I huffed and I puffed and I walked away, and agonised over it for a couple of hours–and then I came back, resolved to pay the whole £18, as unfair as it seemed.
But the owner was no longer there. His assistant was, and when I asked for the book he reached for it, gave me a little smile and said, ‘That’d be twelve pounds.’
Bless that nameless bookshop assistant. Perhaps he was the saint of poor book collectors in disguise. Do book collectors have a saint? Do poor ones?
And then, of course, there’s my Tim Powers collection. – read the rest of the column…
A couple of weeks ago the Mad Hatter’s books blog got in touch with me with the question: What is the weirdest book you’ve ever read?
They were only asking for a paragraph or two but I got a little carried away talking about one of my favourite books: Luna, The Genetic Paradise, an obscure Hebrew SF novel by Ram Moav, an Israeli geneticist who was dying of a terminal illness at the time of writing the book…
This is such a bizarre novel, that I find myself going back to it, again and again—I have even managed to acquire my own copy of what is by now an incredibly rare volume (it has never been reprinted). It is not a particularly good novel, but it is disturbing on so many levels… and thought-provoking. And it does that rare thing—it offers a searing critique of Israeli identity, of the mythos of Israel itself.
A lot more about Moav and his creation over at the Mad Hatter.
I have a new guest-post, this time over at the Falcata Times blog, talking about genre-crossing:
I never really understood why people get so worked up about trying to distinguish science fiction from fantasy, literary fiction from crime, romance from horror (haha, just joking). Emma is both romance and literature, surely? And L.A. Confidential is, besides being a “crime” novel, also one of the great works of American literature. Cordwainer Smith’s Norstrilia is as much a work of fantasy as it is science fiction, just as Zelazny’ Lord of Light beautifully blends the two.
More and more, crime narratives influence science fiction novels. Romance is shaping up modern fantasy. And all these genres feed back into the world of literary fiction – Number9dream or Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow immediately come to mind.
As a writer, I have very little patience for the artificial borders of genre marketing. Zoran Živkovic argues for all non-realistic fiction to be called Fantastika, which I think is quite a wonderful way of putting it – at least if you care for that sort of thing. I prefer to simply think of genres as toolboxes sitting by the desk, waiting to be used – or, if you prefer, as stepping-stones in a stream where you can hop from one to the other at leisure (just trying not to fall into the water in the process!) – read the rest of the post.